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  • John McDonnell

Federal Parliament to resume amid Afghanistan, pandemic concerns

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt at Tuesday's press conference

At his press conference in the prime minister’s courtyard on Tuesday, Scott Morrison confirmed that Parliament would sit next week despite the lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT. He said that most members who attended the last sitting had remained in Canberra and so there would be a quorum next week.

There is no pressing legislation that needs to be passed so attention is likely to be focused on the evacuations from Afghanistan and the pandemic.

Within the next 24 hours, a modified Airbus is likely to land at Kabul airport to evacuate about 300 Australians and Afghans who worked for Australia. A second plane will collect another 300. The prime minister admitted that they would not be able to rescue everybody and some would be left behind. Some people with visas for Australia have not been able to make it to Kabul, and others are in Kabul but will not be allowed to go to the airport by the Taleban.

Mr Morrison said on Tuesday:

"I want you to know that we will continue to do everything we can for those who have stood with us, as we have to this day. But I want to talk openly to veterans that despite our best efforts, I know that support won't reach all that it should.
"On-the-ground events have overtaken many efforts. We wish it were different."

Australia has brought 1800 Afghanis to Australia, 430 of them since April. Over 8,000 Afghanis have been resettled in Australia.

Some Afghanis were reluctant to be evacuated without members of their extended family and have been overtaken by events, while they fought to get visas for their parents or siblings. For some of them, it may be too late.

There have been calls by Afghanis in Australia, refugee advocates and the Greens, for the Australian government to grant humanitarian visas for groups, such as women and minority religions, to resettle in Australia. Foreign minister, Marise Payne, has indicated that she will consider this as well as granting protection for Afghanis who are currently in Australia. Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, has said that no Afghans currently in Australia would be repatriated to Afghanistan.

However, it is unlikely that the Taleban will allow people with visas to leave the country. Some Afghanis have suggested that Australia should undertake a series of ‘hot extractions’ but this is unlikely to happen.

When it came to the pandemic, the prime minister and the chief medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, were upbeat. They made much of the fact that Monday’s vaccinations had been a record day for vaccinations of any type.

Thie mood was in marked contrast to NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, who said that infection numbers were likely to grow and restrictions would remain even after vaccination coverage reached 80 per cent.

In his Tuesday press conference, Victorian premier Dan Andrews threw a dead cat onto the table. He said that he couldn’t see the lockdown in Victoria continuing through until November even if the state still had a level of Covid-19 infections and vaccination coverage was less than 80%. This seems to put him on the same page as premier Berejiklian.

The prime minister was questioned at his press conference about the low rate of vaccination among aboriginal communities in Western NSW.

The minister for indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said there was plenty of vaccine available and strong messaging, including by Adam Goodes, but people were slow to get vaccinated because they thought they were remote from the disease. He said this had changed now and the vaccination rate was surging.


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